Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Friday, January 07, 2011

Somalia Pirates: Getting too big to avoid land action by anti-pirate forces?

Call for action against the pirates reported by Strategy Page in Somalia: Calls For Sending Commandoes Ashore:
So far it's all talk, but specific talk about going after the ability of the pirate gangs to function. The continued payment of large (average now about $5 million per ship) ransoms for insured ships, is attracting more warlords, who are forming more pirate gangs and sending more mother ships out than the anti-piracy patrol can handle. Thus the increased talk of commando raids.
How big is the problem? well, USA Today's Jim Michaels reports:
Two years after international forces dispatched a flotilla of warships to counter piracy around the Horn of Africa, attacks on merchant ships are rising again.

Last year, pirates captured 53 ships in the region, up from 51 in 2009, according to the Combined Maritime Forces, which oversees the operations. There were 160 attempted attacks in 2010, up from 145 the year before.

Pirates have shifted tactics so they can prey on merchant ships farther out at sea and evade an international flotilla that was dispatched to the Horn of Africa region to protect heavily used shipping lanes, according to the Combined Maritime Forces based in Bahrain.
Aldred said the naval force, with the help of merchant shipping companies, has been successful in reducing piracy from 2008 levels when a spike in attacks led to the creation of the international force.

He also said naval forces are disrupting more attacks. Last year 169 attempts were disrupted, up from 62 the year prior.

The shift in tactics has showed the resiliency of pirates, who have made millions of dollars from ransoms.

Pirates are now using "mother ships," which are able to travel thousands of miles before finding a target and then launching smaller skiffs that pirates use to board merchant ships, said Eric Thompson, an analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses. "That magnifies the challenge of covering that territory," he said.
Yep, when you put the squeeze on one part of a bag of goo, the goo in the bag oozes to another part of the bag. In this case, the pirates, squeezed in the Gulf of Aden, move to the northern Arabian Sea, Madagascar Strait or off the west coast of India.

The shift causes them to need larger, more sea-worthy ships, which they procure by pirating them, giving them a low-overhead system of ship acquisition. When such a ship is used up (out of fuel and food), it is anchored off Somalia to await ransoming by its owners. Another ship is taken to replace it. The pirates have low maintenance costs, too. It's a clever business model.

Anti-piracy forces are reluctant to force their way onto these captive pirate vessels for fear of causing injury to the captive crews of innocent merchant sailors.

So far the problem is tiny in comparison to the volume of shipping involved but, as we have seen, it is expanding and the current methods of squeezing the pirate "bag" is just moving the pirate area of operations away from the convoys and other military efforts.

Some of the better options to fight the pirate expansion are coming off the board as the pirates aggressively use hostages to protect themselves from the counter-piracy forces.

The treatment of this as a purely "law enforcement" problem has proven to be something of a problem - and not very effective. "Catch and release" of captured pirates doesn't deter very much and the costly trials result in more of a hassle for the countries holding them then the deterrent value of facing criminal charges.

Someone is going to have to break some eggs to solve this problem and those eggs that matter are all land-based.

Then there is this problem:
LONG ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this, and some said that; but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case. “You will all agree,” said he, “that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighbourhood.”

This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: “That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?” The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke.
The moral?  "It is one thing to propose, another to execute."
Attributed to Aesop.

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